pregnancy and gross anatomy
January 18, 2012 10:02 AM   Subscribe

I need to dissect some cadavers in the next few months as a pre-requisite for school, but I may be pregnant. What are my options?

I am asking this question for my sister. She says:
I have just sent in my applications to two schools in Boston for a masters in occupational therapy. I have one more prerequisite for each school. School 1 requires a bio class with a lab. School 2 requires Gross human anatomy. I am signed up for both classes this semester.

Problem: I may be pregnant (if not, I hope to be soon). I just found out that pregnant students are not allowed to take either of the above classes because they involve human dissection. I want to get these prerequisites out of the way as soon as possible so that I can start grad school in the fall (if accepted).

I have called the admissions offices at both schools and am waiting to hear back from them. What should I say when I speak to them? Are there computer based dissection that I can take that are likely to be accepted as pre-recs? Other ideas that I haven't thought of?
posted by DaveZ to Education (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe this is a bit of a flip answer, but since there's a chance that you(r sister) are not pregnant yet maybe hold off until after this semester ends.

Or, Idea #2-- get a syllabus from the professors of both classes you are registered for and find out when the dissections occur. Maybe you can wait until after the dissections are finished for the semester before becoming pregnant?

Idea #3, a quick google says pregnant women can wear an organic solvents respirator (whatever the hell that is) and still do dissections.
posted by Flamingo at 10:37 AM on January 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Not to be discouraging about your pregnancy (yay baby!), you might not get pregnant until after the class is done, so until you know for sure, it's in your best interest to plan on taking the courses, and be aware of the academic consequences. If you get pregnant late in the school term, well maybe there can be some accommodations made for you.

For your current courses, find out what the drop dates and financial penalties are. Talk to the department, and find out who typically teaches that course, talk to them - find out what sections of the course are going to be problematic for pregnant women. Hopefully they will allow you to complete the class portion and just have to make up the remaining labs later, or depending on how many labs you have left, enquire if there is an alternate way they'd approve of for finishing (like virtual dissection). I'd sure hope that since pregnancy is a medical condition, if you had to entirely drop the class late, they'd at least not give you a withdraw/fail kind of mark.
posted by lizbunny at 10:37 AM on January 18, 2012

It's your body and your baby so you can be as worried about it as you want. However, I wouldn't worry about it. Any woman in the class could become pregnant without knowing it while taking the class, same is true for you. Likewise you could try and try and try to get pregnant and still not get pregnant. If there were any real health concerns, the school wouldn't allow women to take the course unless they took weekly pregnancy tests.

I teach Human Anatomy Lab. While I don't do the dissections, we do use freshly dissected cadavers. There are no chemicals used to preserve the cadavers prior, during, or after the dissection that should be harmful to a pregnant woman or her fetus. My officemate was pregnant last term and she taught a section of the course. The instructors, including her, spend approximately 6 hours a day (two days a week) in close proximity to these cadavers. Additionally, we prepare and use a "wetting solution" to keep them from drying out. The only substances that are used on the cadavers after they are provided to us are a handful of different alcohols and Downy (to keep them soft...)

If you're worried that they may use different chemicals, then I'd ask THE INSTRUCTOR hypothetically about accidentally becoming pregnant during the term and see what they say. The admissions office is not who you should talk to about this. They will just tell you the "rules" as they are written and you know those already.

If I was the instructor and you asked me, I'd tell you that we've investigated this issue, that several students I know have taken the course in addition to at least three instructors (that I can think of) while pregnant.
posted by pwb503 at 11:03 AM on January 18, 2012 [6 favorites]

If you do have a concern about the health risks associated with the lab I would get in touch with the university's EHS (Environmental Health and Safety) department where you are going to take the class. It's their job to help evaluate these sorts of risks for students and staff and you should be able to talk to them without fear of repercussions. You will be able to find out exactly what chemicals are the reproductive risk factors (off the top of my head I would guess formaldehyde exposure could be an issue) and what steps can be taken to minimize that risk.
posted by wilky at 12:18 PM on January 18, 2012

Are you sure YOU will be doing the dissections? In my freshman biology class in college, we had a cadaver present but only the professor and his aides actually did any work on the body. We all just observed. Perhaps you could keep a teeny bit of distance or wear the respirator.
posted by IndigoRain at 1:10 PM on January 18, 2012

Best answer: pwb503 raised some good points - I would find out what happens to women who accidentally get pregnant during the semester. Are they booted out of the course? Given alternate accommodations? That would be a good thing to find out, and will let you know just how much flex there is on this.

And not to be a party pooper, but a semester is 4 months long, and once it's done it's done. It could take months or years to get pregnant and have a pregnancy that sticks. If there truly is no way to both be pregnant and take the course, you are going to have to consider the timeline: If you do get pregnant right away, you won't be able to take the course for at least another year. If you don't get pregnant right away you'll be unnecessarily deferring the course for what could be a long time. On the other hand, if you take the course, you can get back to baby-making in four months. (of course this relies on you not already being pregnant).

In terms of what to ask the admissions office - ask them if the "no pregnant chicks" is a rule or a suggestion. Ask them what happens if someone accidentally becomes pregnant during the course of the semester. Ask them if *should an accident happen* you could sign a waiver and wear a respirator, or watch another student do the dissection via webcam, or find some other accommodation. Do not tell them you are pregnant or trying to be, just tell them that you have never heard of that rule before and want to be proactive in looking out for your own health. Maybe there's a really good reason, like that the fumes will be so bad that you shouldn't get pregnant for X months after the course is done? Or maybe they're just worried that nauseous preggos will barf on the cadavers. :)
posted by arcticwoman at 1:30 PM on January 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for all of the great answers. I talked to my sister. Her current plan is to take the bio class/lab, and observe dissections from the other side of the room when they happen.
The gross anatomy class is pretty formaldehyde heavy, so pending department approval, she is going to take an">online class instead.
posted by DaveZ at 8:17 AM on January 19, 2012

Don't assume the lab is "formaldehyde heavy." Just because it smells bad, doesn't mean it's formaldehyde and/or a carcinogen. We don't use formaldehyde hardly at all these days.
posted by pwb503 at 8:25 AM on January 20, 2012

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